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Redistricting & Voting Rights Update: News



Skinnell Talks Local Government Redistricting: On February 18, tune into the new PublicCEO Report to hear an interview with Nielsen Merksamer partner Christopher Skinnell about the challenges of local redistricting in 2021, including virtual meetings, delayed census data, drawing maps, new public outreach requirements, and more.

Census Redistricting Data Delayed to September 30: On February 12, the Census Bureau announced that it does not expect to release the “PL94-171” data—the population and ethnic data needed for redistricting—until September 30 of this year. That is six months later than the deadline prescribed by the U.S. Code, and two months later than the July release date the Bureau had announced last month.

Absent changes to the current timelines prescribed by state law, the Census delay will lead to an extremely compressed local redistricting timeline, and may be impossible to complete on time in some circumstances. Once the Bureau releases the data, counties and cities must then wait for the California Statewide Database to “adjust” the Census data to reassign incarcerated felons to their last known residences—a process the Statewide Database director has predicted could take as much as 30 days, meaning the necessary data may not be available until October 31.
Under current state law all 58 counties, and those cities with elections prior to July 1, 2022, are required to complete the redistricting process by mid-December, unless a charter sets a different date. As a practical matter, the final district boundaries must be adopted well before that date. School districts, community college districts, and county boards of education generally have a little longer—until February 28, 2022—and cities with elections in November 2022 have until mid-April 2022.

Census Bureau Proposes to Delay Release of Data Until Summer 2021: On April 13, 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce and Census Bureau announced changes to 2020 Census operations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that could have a significant effect on the 2020-2021 redistricting round in California.

Among the changes announced was a request to Congress to extend deadlines for the Census Bureau to deliver apportionment data to the President and the states (the deadlines are set in federal law at 13 U.S.C. § 141(b) and 2 U.S.C. §§ 2a(a)-(b)). If Congress grants the request, the Census Bureau would need to deliver the counts to the President by April 30, 2021, and the states would receive the data no later than July 31, 2021 (instead of December 31, 2020 and April 1, 2021, as planned). For comparison, California received Census data during the last redistricting round on March 8, 2011.

Extending these deadlines could have a substantial impact on redistricting efforts at the state and local level. For instance, the California Constitution requires the Citizens Redistricting Commission to approve maps for congressional, legislative, and Board of Equalization districts by August 15, 2021, following an “open and transparent process enabling full consideration of and comment,” or else the Secretary of State must ask the California Supreme Court to appoint special masters to do so. Art. XXI, §§ 2(b)(1), (g), (j). While the Commission may begin to hold hearings to gather input before it receives apportionment data (as it did during the 2010-2011 redistricting round), a delay in the Census data would likely make it more challenging for the Commission to meet the deadline. Likewise, boards of supervisors and city councils must adopt updated maps no later than 151 days before the county’s next regular election occurring after March 1, 2022. Election Code §§ 21501, 21507.1, 21602, 21607.1, 21622, 21627.1.

Depending on whether Congress acts on the Census Bureau’s requested legislative fix, cities and counties may need to consider front-loading their hearing schedules to ensure they have sufficient time to meet their statutory deadlines. And, policymakers may be asked to adjust deadlines in state law. At the same time, cities and counties may be under less pressure to begin redistricting activities early if California moves its 2022 primary election date back to June. In mid-March, lawmakers in Sacramento took initial steps to move non-presidential year primaries back to June, in part to provide local government, primarily counties, with enough time to complete their required redistricting work.

Marguerite Leoni & Chris Skinnell Give Webinars on CVRA and Redistricting: In late-October and early-November, Nielsen Merksamer’s leading voting rights practitioners, Marguerite Leoni and Chris Skinnell, participated in two webinars hosted by the Rose Institute of State and Local Government.

  • The first, on October 24, 2019, at 10-11 a.m., covered differences between the federal and California Voting Rights Acts, the impact of the CVRA on California cities, school districts, and special districts, and on-going litigation concerning its application and validity, including different settlement scenarios.
  • The second, on November 7, 2019, at 10-11 a.m., explained the redistricting process at the local level, applicable law, and best practices for local agencies, including the newly-enacted legislative overhaul in A.B. 849.

More information, including recordings of the webinars, is available on the Rose Institute website, here.

Multiple Marin County School Districts Move to Trustee Zones: The Marin Independent Journal reports that Trustees for both the San Rafael Board of Education and the Novato Unified School District will soon be chosen by voters living in zones within each school district—a change from the at-large election of Trustees. An attorney threatened the San Rafael Board of Education with litigation under the CVRA unless they moved to Trustee zones. The Novato Unified School District chose to make the change without any such provocation. (9/3/2019)

City of Davis Declares Intention to Move to Districts: On August 13, 2019, the Davis City Council received a staff report and approved a resolution to begin the process of creating districts to elect the City’s Council. Under the resolution’s timeline, the Council will adopt a final ordinance establishing districts on November 5, 2019. A demand letter from Rexroad Law prompted the Council’s action, but the motivations of Rexroad Law and its clients have been the subject of a great deal of speculation and discussion.

Some California Jurisdictions Transition to Districts Without a CVRA Demand Letter: The City of Selma, for example, passed a resolution on July 15, 2019 to move the City’s Council to by-district elections. According to the resolution, the City opted to transition “due to the uncertainty of litigation to defend against a CVRA lawsuit [and] the potentially extraordinary cost of such a lawsuit, even if the City were to prevail.” The Sentinel describes the at-times contentious meeting where the decision was made.
According to Roseville Today, the City of Roseville also intends to transition to district elections without receiving a CVRA demand letter. The report by the City Manager on the issue includes a timeline whereby the transition will be complete by December 4, 2019. (9/3/2019)

Other California Jurisdictions Have Demand Letters Under Consideration: The City of Santa Cruz, for example, announced no action after meeting to discuss a demand letter sent to the City alleging a violation of the California Voting Rights Act based on the City’s at-large election of its Council. Read more here. California law provides for a 45-day “safe harbor” from litigation for jurisdictions to evaluate a CVRA demand. Action may be forthcoming. (8/31/2019)

Chris Skinnell Talks Partisan Gerrymandering: On August 9, 2019, Chris Skinnell participated in panel at the American Bar Association’s Annual meeting to discuss the Supreme Court’s recent decisions on partisan gerrymandering, Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek. The program, which is co-sponsored by the Young Lawyers Division and the Standing Committee on Election Law, addressed the ramifications for the future of drawing election maps.